Online Associate Degree in Criminal Justice

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that employment for police and detectives will increase 7% by 2026. While a high school diploma is often sufficient to enter a police academy, an online criminal justice degree can give you an advantage over other candidates. Degree holders also have more preparation for specialized work and on-the-job training. In addition to police work, an associate degree in criminal justice can prepare you for careers as a legal assistant, evidence technician, campus security officer, crime statistics analyst, or corrections officer.

Choosing an Online Associate Degree in Criminal Justice

Depending on whether you are looking for entry-level employment or an online criminal justice bachelor’s degree, some associate programs may suit your needs better than others. Some programs are designed for students who intend to enroll in a police academy, while others are designed for learners who are interested in research and administration. Graduation requirements, including courses and capstone projects, vary depending on which type of program you select.

Some programs are designed for students who intend to enroll in a police academy, while others are designed for learners who are interested in research and administration.

Since students can typically complete online degrees anywhere, many distance learners choose an out-of-state college. It is important to remember, however, that the cost of attendance may increase if your school is located outside of your home state. Some online colleges offer in-state tuition to all distance learners, regardless of state residency.

Program format is also an important factor. Many online criminal justice associate degrees are available entirely online. However, hybrid programs require certain on-campus courses or residencies. Hybrid programs allow distance learners to network with peers and gain in-person experience. Fully online degrees, on the other hand, offer greater flexibility.

Curriculum for an Associate Degree in Criminal Justice

Most online criminal justice degree programs cover the same basic principles and include the same general education requirements. However, some schools offer concentrations or specialized courses in fields such as homeland security or public administration. Although curricula vary slightly, students can expect to take many of the courses listed below.

Example Courses

Introduction to Criminal JusticeEvery online criminal justice associate degree program features an introduction course. This class covers basic principles of crime, judicial systems, and law enforcement.
Judicial ProcessThese courses thoroughly examine the judiciary branch of the U.S. government. Students learn about justice systems at the local, state, and federal level. Some versions of the course include case studies in judicial process and litigation. The class particularly benefits aspiring lawyers and judges.
Juvenile JusticeIdeal for students who want to work in corrections, courses on juvenile justice and delinquency examine judicial proceedings for minors. Topics include differences between juvenile and adult court, classifications for juveniles who commit crime, and strategies for juvenile crime prevention.
Correctional SystemsCorrections courses examine the structure, management, organization, and design of jails and prisons. Students debate ways to improve the corrections system. The class particularly benefits aspiring corrections officers and probation officers.
Criminal Justice CapstoneThe last course in an online criminal justice degree, a capstone project typically requires students to research and analyze a particular issue in field. Students draw on knowledge from every semester of the program.

How Long Does It Take to Earn an Online Associate in Criminal Justice?

Associate degrees typically require 60-64 credits, half the amount required for a bachelor’s degree. Full-time students can complete an online criminal justice associate degree in two years or four semesters.

Program format can affect the timeframe it takes to earn an associate degree. Individually paced programs allow learners to progress through courses as quickly or slowly as they would like. Cohort programs, on the other hand, require a group of peers to take courses on a predetermined schedule. The same group of students take classes together each semester. The cohort model allows for better networking and communication between students, but can take longer than other program formats.

While many criminal justice programs are available entirely online, some programs require on-campus courses. Learners who have difficulty commuting to campus or taking time off work may take longer to meet all graduation requirements.

Employment Outlook for Associate in Criminal Justice Graduates

Although an associate degree is not typically required to become a police officer, it can help you successfully apply to police academy and find a job after graduation. An understanding of criminal litigation, crime statistics, and criminal theory can help you make thoughtful decisions both in the field and in the office.

An associate degree typically leads to entry-level employment, although certain companies allow workers to advance with experience.

With a degree in criminal justice, you can find positions in private security companies, school security teams, law offices, and local and state government agencies. An associate degree typically leads to entry-level employment, although certain companies allow workers to advance with experience.

Higher degrees often correlate with higher earning potential and more career opportunities. You may ultimately be interested in completing an online bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or an online master’s degree in criminal justice. Professionals with these degrees can find work as detectives, forensic investigators, police chiefs, and supervisors.

Online Associate in Criminal Justice Careers

Criminal justice covers a wide range of occupations in several different workplaces. Graduates may find employment with private companies, police departments, prisons, court systems, schools, and other organizations. Knowledge of the criminal justice system, court procedures, and crime analysis can help graduates secure jobs in policing, research, litigation, and security. The best online criminal justice degrees prepare you for jobs in many different areas of law enforcement.

Border Patrol Agent

Border patrol agents spend a majority of their work hours policing a country’s borders. They prevent illegal immigration and protect citizens from illegal trade, trafficking, and terrorism. These professionals should have advanced knowledge of the law.

Police Officer

Police officers patrol neighborhoods, respond to civilian complaints, document and collect evidence, prevent criminal activity, and otherwise enforce the law. While a degree is not usually required to become a police officer, it can make candidates more competitive.

Security Officer

Security officers protect property against theft and vandalism, respond to emergencies, and monitor and screen visitors. While these positions do not typically require a degree, degree-holders may receive higher pay or take on supervisory roles.

Deputy Sheriff

Deputy sheriffs have similar duties as police officers, but their jurisdiction extends to the whole state, rather than just a particular city. Deputy sheriffs uphold state and local law, maintain public safety, and frequently work in high-pressure situations.

Correctional Officer

Correctional officers work inside institutions like jails or prisons. They maintain safety, protect visitors, enforce regulations, and oversee security measures. Federal agencies typically require corrections officers to have a college education.
Occupations and Salary for Online DEGREE Graduates
Job TitleOverall Median SalaryMedian Salary for Entry-Level Employees (0-5 years)Median Salary for Mid-Career Employees (5-10 years)Median Salary for Late-Career Employees (>20 years)
Border Patrol Agent$56,000$41,000$71,000$93,000
Police Officer$50,200$44,000$50,000$64,000
Security Officer$26,000$24,000$27,000$31,000
Deputy Sheriff$42,900$38,000$40,000$55,000
Correctional Officer$36,600$32,000$36,000$49,000
Source: BLS, May 2017

Accreditation for Online Associate in Criminal Justice Degrees

Accreditation ensures schools meet certain professional and educational standards. Accrediting agencies regularly review schools for academic performance, retention, job placement, quality of education, and other factors. All students must attend accredited schools in order to receive federal financial aid. Most employers do not accept candidates with degrees from unaccredited schools. No matter which school you attend, you should make sure your online criminal justice associate degree holds accreditation.

Employers and other colleges generally prefer regional accreditation.

There are two main types of accreditation: regional and national. Employers and other colleges generally prefer regional accreditation. Regional accreditation requires higher standards and a more rigorous multi-year process. Nationally accredited schools accept credits from both regionally and nationally accredited schools, while regionally accredited schools only accept credits from other regionally accredited schools. This is especially important for associate students to consider, since they may choose to enroll in a bachelor’s program.

Students can search their school’s accreditation status on the Department of Education website.

Financing Your Online Associate in Criminal Justice

Many online criminal justice associate degrees are available through community colleges. These schools typically charge hundreds or thousands of dollars less per course than four-year universities. Even so, college requires significant investment, and the cost of higher education can add up.

There are a number of ways to help fund your education. The most important step is to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This form can help you obtain federal scholarships, loans, grants, and work-study. If you are already employed, some organizations assist with tuition costs as part of professional development. Students can also apply for scholarships sponsored by nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and private companies. Some scholarships require students to attend a particular school or program, while others are open to all students.

Criminal Justice Scholarships

Scholarships are the best source of funding for higher education. Scholarships can be as small as a few hundred dollars or as large as the full cost of attendance. Scholarships receive funds through public donations, individual benefactors, organizations, and agencies. Criminal justice students can find scholarships through professional associations, local governments, and foundations like those listed below.

Naqvi Scholarship

Naqvi Scholarship $2,000

Who Can Apply: Applicants must graduate from a Nevada high school, hold a 3.0 GPA, and seek a law-related degree. View Scholarship

Howell & Christmas Visionary Scholarship $1,000

Who Can Apply: Applicants must hold a minimum 2.8 GPA and attend or plan to attend law school. View Scholarship

Islamic Scholarship Fund $5,000

Who Can Apply: Applicants must be Muslim or active members of the Muslim community, have U.S. citizenship, and enroll in an ISF-supported major at an an accredited university. View Scholarship

National Black Police Association Scholarship Varies

Who Can Apply: Applicants must be high school seniors with letters of recommendation from a counselor, teacher, or principal. View Scholarship

Out to Protect Scholarship $1,000

Who Can Apply: Applicants must identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender and pursue a career in law enforcement. View Scholarship

Top Associate in Criminal Justice Programs